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Project on Government Oversight

POGO Joins Other groups in Asking Congress to Make CRS Reports Public and Online

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April 5, 2011

Representative Darrell Issa
Chairman
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Representative Elijah Cummings
Ranking Member
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
B350A Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings:

We are writing to ask you to quickly reintroduce legislation to authorize and promote the public distribution of reports that are published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

As you know, CRS products are a valuable, non-partisan resource for informing discussion of nearly every topic of legislative activity, from agricultural subsidies to the space program. These reports play a critical role in our legislative process, and, when made available, inform the public debate about our nation’s policies. In the last two years alone, major newspapers cited the Congressional Research Service 779 times, with 70 mentions in the Washington Post and 65 in the New York Times. The U.S. Supreme Court has cited CRS 34 times and the circuit court made 112 citations, with 130 judicial citations in the last decade. We strongly believe, as we think you do, that improving public access to CRS reports would help to enrich public discourse and to promote informed citizen engagement in the political process.

We respect the confidentiality of CRS support to Members of Congress, and we have no wish to infringe upon it. We are seeking public access only to those "published" reports that are broadly available to any Member or staff person through the CRS intranet, and not to any private communications between CRS and an individual Member or office.
American taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the CRS, yet current distribution of these reports is haphazard and often expensive. Several private companies now sell copies of these reports for a price, meaning these reports are readily available to lobbyists, executives and others who can afford to pay. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people lack the information necessary to even request reports from their Members of Congress. And the reports that are publicly available are often out-of-date. The public deserves a consistent and official way to access the non-classified, non-biased information CRS provides.

We urge you to act soon to help lead a formal revision of CRS publication policy in favor of public distribution of non-confidential reports. We will strongly support your efforts.

Representatives from the undersigned organizations would be happy to meet with you or your staff at any time to discuss this important issue. Please contact Daniel Schuman, Policy Counsel, Sunlight Foundation (dschuman@sunlightfoundation.com or 202-742-1520 x 273), at your convenience.

Sincerely,

 

American Association of Law Libraries iSolon.org
American Association of University Professors Liberty Coalition
American Library Association National Coalition for History
American Society of News Editors National Security Counselors
Bill of Rights Defense Committee Northern California Association of Law Libraries
Center for Fiscal Accountability OMB Watch
Center for Investigative Journalism- Puerto Rico OpenTheGovernment.org
Center for Media and Democracy Point of Order
Center for Responsive Politics Progressive Librarians Guild
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – CREW Project On Government Oversight – POGO
Colgate University Libraries Public Citizen
Defending Dissent Foundation Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Electronic Frontier Foundation Society of Professional Journalists
Essential Information Special Libraries Association
Federation of American Scientists Sunlight Foundation
Free Government Information Union of Concerned Scientists
Government Accountability Project – GAP Washington Coalition for Open Government
Investigative Reporters and Editors Western Carolina University Libraries
  WildEarth Guardians

__________________________

This same letter was also sent to Senate leaders:

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman
Chairman
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
340 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Senator Susan M. Collins
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
350 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510